Games like these are why studies have shown that Coug fans have a higher rate of hypertension than the rest of the general population.* The game was just one of those that never felt comfortable. The Cougs continued to leave man after man on base and miss out on opportunities to build the lead.
Early on, the game looked well in hand because Arkansas simply could not handle Matt Way. Way struck out 40% if the batters he faced, gave up just three hits and one run in six innings. The problem with prolific strikeout totals is that they always lead to high pitch counts, and Arkansas was undoubtedly glad to see Adam Conley on the mound in the 7th.
Conley was able to preserve the Cougs tiny 3-1 lead into the eighth by shutting down the Razorbacks 1-2-3. After the WSU offense went down in order themselves, the stage was set for the decisive inning.
In the eighth inning, Conley gave up a flukey lead off double that bounced over the head of Cougar first baseman Matt Fanelli's head and down the right field line. WSU manager Donnie Marbut was unwilling to take a chance and immediately went to his all-Pac 10 closer Jeremy Johnson.
Arkansas hit two singles off Johnson then tied the game at 3 on a squeeze play. The game truly began to unravel on the next play, when shortstop Shea Vucinich overthrew first base on what would have been the final out of the inning. The next five Razorback batters who came to the plate reached base and scored, punctuated by a three run homerun that pushed the score to 10-3 and hammered the proverbial nail into the Cougars' coffin.
This one was a truly tough loss for several reasons. The most glaring of which being a 3-1 lead with just six outs to go. There were several missed opportunities to pad the lead and force the Razorbacks to change their approach. Wazzu essentially wasted a solid performance from their ace and now are left with the task of winning four straight games in three days without Matt Way on the mound. There is also questions like, "Why so quick to pull Conley?" and "Why have your 5-hole hitter laying down a squeeze bunt?"
I don't really blame Marbut for putting Johnson in when he did. Jeremy has shown he can go more than an inning before. He has a 25% strikeout rate and Arkansas has trouble making contact. On most days, the game would have been in very solid hands. As for having Derek Jones bunt in the fifth inning with guys on base and a chance to start a rally, that was a real mystery.
The Cougs will put their season on the line tommorrow when they face the loser of the Oklahoma/Wichita State matchup. Gametime is once again 11:00am PT and Chad Arnold will be on the mound.
*No studies have shown that Coug fans have a higher rate of hypertension, but would you really be surprised if they did?